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I was wrong. Utterly. I honestly believed digital-camera cell phones were a silly, bandwidth-hogging gimmick more appropriate to the giggling-Japanese-schoolgirl market than to harried American motor-mouths. Foolish me.

Camera phones threaten to surpass DVD players as the personal technology devices with the fastest-growing market in history. Analysts estimate that 57 million camera phones were sold worldwide in 2003, compared to 44 million stand-alone digital cameras. Nokia says most of its new phones will have built-in cameras. Say “cheese.”

Note to self: start paying more attention to Japanese schoolgirls as global technoculture’s beta site.

Second note to self: there is always a mass market in instant gratification. It’s clearly worked for digital music and handheld games. Edwin Land anticipated the appeal of instant photography more than 50 years ago. Marrying that sensibility with mobile transmission is a no-brainer. I should have known that Hey! Look at this right now! is just as powerful an interpersonal message as Hey! Listen to me right now!

Being wrong about successful innovation forces you to look at it with new wariness and respect. The success of camera phones leads me to suspect that images will matter far more than voice in spreading the next generation of “instant gratification” telecommunications innovations. I like what I could see.

What I want-what I need-is a camera phone that would let me take a picture of an article in a newspaper and translate it into a machine-readable form that I could send on to a colleague, a client, or, indeed, myself. In other words, I want my mobile camera/phone to be a handheld scanner with built-in optical character recognition.

If the phone keypad would let me highlight, delete, or otherwise edit the text document I’m sending, that would be even better. Would I settle for sending it to my laptop for editing? Sure. The point here is to give me more reasons to take more types of pictures.

Instant photography, however, is an insufficient metaphor. My mobile should be marketed as a general input/output device. If it works well enough, it will do away with the traditional boundary between “photos” and “scans.”

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